EBGBS was the host of a gig this weekend that seemed to have been destined never to take place. The Merchants first penned this date riding high in a pre-pandemic world, and later rescheduled in hope at the back end of last year.
But Saturday was to be the night that they finally took to the stage in front of their own sell-out crowd.
On board with them were Razzmatazz, who opened proceedings to a venue that was already teeming with revellers. It was one of those balmy late summer evenings in Liverpool, one where town was the place to be. The Ropewalks were heaving but that didn’t stop gig-goers from clambering down the stairs early to catch this exciting new outfit.
What they were met with in the night’s first act was a set that was furiously played out by an assured, confident and full of attitude Razzmatazz.
Inspiration from Let It Be era Beatles and Oasis is easy to see, but the latter stages of their set presented riffs The Verve’s Nick McCabe could easy lay claim to. It is ludicrous to think this band have played so few gigs.
There’s more to this band, though, their music is only half the story. There aren’t many bands that add a supermarket to their offering, or at least an anti-supermarket is what it’s tipped as (think Handyman on Smithdown Road).
But these lads have decided that in alignment with their lockdown basement sessions, from which their band was born, a new event space should follow. Hope Anti-Supermarket opened on Victoria Road in New Brighton last month.
“In the House of Lords report into seaside towns, New Brighton was featured as the model for how to regenerate [them]. The thinking behind the project is to create a base model that could help regenerate other towns that have fallen on hard times.” said a statement published on Instagram last month.
The result is an exciting new community hub that is the home of an event space, craft fair and food and drink market – the sort that has proved so popular at the new Future Yard venue and spaces from some of the more commercial hitters in Liverpool.
They are a fascinating prospect, with a vision for their music and a vision for a seaside town on the paradise peninsula. Some say the future is Birkenhead… New Brighton wants a word. This band are truly one to watch.
In second support were Turquoise Noise, and they came rated from conversations in the courtyard upstairs.
Now, anyone who has stepped foot in this venue will know it’s intimate. So, they’d be surely impressed to see that this six piece outfit had, somehow, managed to fit themselves on the platform at the front without it looking like a stage invasion. Clearly some serious formation planning had gone into this. Well played.
Perhaps, though, Turquoise Noise would have been a better fit opening up the show on this occasion. The first act had a short set, but one that ascended into grunge jam territory – whereas this band have seemingly constructed a set to build their own ebb and flow, in headline fashion, starting at the pop end of the spectrum.
All momentum wasn’t lost though, because EBGBS was back in the groove a couple of tracks in and this band were dictating big style. By now the gig was worth every bit of its sold out stamp and Turquoise Noise will come away knowing they have played to new ears and have done themselves no harm.
Now, The Merchants are no newcomers. Their members had played solo and in other outfits previously, with success, before finding they were best fit with each other. Their early gigs in 2019 and subsequent first releases the following year had them gaining huge momentum, before the country shut down.
The band weren’t to let this stop them in their tracks, though, and they set to work putting their tunes down. Spending time in the studio at Olympic Hall in London, and Giant Wafer Studios in Mid Wales, the product of that tenacity is five new tracks, with their latest release Daughter of Darkness coming earlier this month.
So, by the time this gig had arrived, the band have found themselves in the ideal scenario. They are fresh, and new to the ears of many, but now come armed with a fistful of recorded tracks. They’ve spent the time away from their live arena practicing meticulously, and it is this that reaped the most rewards in EBGBS.
It was clear from the get-go that this Merchants are a different beast. It took little over a verse of the first track, My Name, for vocalist Harry Bowness to rid himself of the shackles of his guitar and lurch into the crowd like a caged animal set free. It set the tone.
Castro, one of several tracks begging to be recorded and released, kept the heat up (literally) and when Roots Hold The Trees came out, this little maze of tunnels under Seel Street went wild.
Perhaps the most genuine/heartwarming/amusing response to this came from bassist Joe Abraham. A Cheshire cat to the right of the stage, and a lad who, if nothing else, just wanted to say how grateful he was to everyone that had packed the place out. So much so, in fact, he later got Bowness to do it for him. They’re great lads.
The aforementioned Daughter of Darkness and its B-side Numb came hand in hand, the latter bringing it all down a touch and allowing us all to take a breath. This included guitarist Ernesto Sandoval who just couldn’t help but take the opportunity to record the singalong that was happening down the front. The moment you catch a band really, truly enjoying themselves is a special one.
The experience of an inspired cover medley would have been kept strictly between those who were in attendance at EBGBS, but the refrains of The Passenger and Psycho Killer were surely enough to be heard on the ground floor above. We were having a party downstairs, and they surely knew it.
The run-in featured Hostile and Trait of a Creative Mind before Forbidden Fruit brought a close to proceedings. The Merchants have crafted a set that allows for tracks to transition seamlessly, or with the help of a vicious drum solo from Harry Strachan that exploded like scallies putting a 50 quid box of fireworks on a bonfire (we’re nearly at that time of year). A touch frightening, but entirely thrilling.
Plenty has been said about how we’ve yearned for these gigs and these nights again. But as much as their return is welcome relief, there is due excitement around what is in store from Liverpool music in the coming months – The Merchants can be front and centre of this new dawn. If that gig was anything to go by, they’re going to lead the way.